The Government of Self and Others Lectures at the College de France, 1982-1983

Lectures at the Collège de France

Michel Foucault; Translated by Graham Burchell; Edited by Frédéric Gros; General Editors: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana; English Series Editor: Arnold I. Davidson




Trade Paperback

432 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

These lectures, given by Michel Foucault at the Collège de France, launch an inquiry into the notion of parresia and continue his rereading of ancient philosophy. Through the study of this notion of truth-telling, of speaking out freely, Foucault reexamines Greek citizenship, showing how the courage of the truth forms the forgotten ethical basis of Athenian democracy. The figure of the philosopher king, the condemnation of writing, and Socrates’ rejection of political involvement are some of the many topics of ancient philosophy revisited here.


Praise for The Government of Self and Others

"The publications of Foucault's lectures at the Collège de France have given us an incredibly view of the development of his thinking. This new volume, The Government of Self and Others, shows us how Foucault was conceiving the relation between the self and the others who make up the political, how fearless speech (parresia) is at the center of both, and how parresia defines, for Foucault, philosophical action itself. Thanks to these lectures the, we see Foucault as the great thinker he is."—Leonard Lawlor, Sparks Professor of Philosophy, Penn State University

"The publication of Foucault's lectures is momentous not only because they deepen our understanding of his books and essays, but because they dramatically change the way we read him. This study of the ancient practice of parresia—philosophical truth-telling—forces us to abandon the view that his late thought was a turn way from politics. The key question in these lectures is the relationship between philosophy and politics: their necessary dependence, but impossible coincidence. The political significance of philosophy was an acute problem for Foucault throughout his life. It remains a definitive question today for anyone concerned with the future of Western political thought and practice."—Johanna Oksala, University of Dundee, United Kingdom


Foreword: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana

Translator’s Note

One: 5 January 1983: First Hour
Remarks on method. — Study of Kant’s text: What is Enlightenment? — Conditions of publication: journals. — The encounter between Christian Aufklärung and Jewish Haskala: freedom of conscience. — Philosophy and present reality. — The question of the Revolution. — Two critical filiations.

Two: 5 January 1983: Second Hour
The idea of tutelage ( minorité ): neither natural powerlessness nor authoritarian deprivation of rights. — Way out from the condition of tutelage and critical activity. — The shadow of three Critiques. — The difficulty of emancipation: laziness and cowardice; the predicted failure of liberators. — Motivations of the condition of tutelage: superimposition of obedience and absence of reasoning; confusion between the private and public use of reason. — The problematic turn at the end of Kant’s text.

Three: 12 January 1983: First Hour
Reminds of method. — Definition of the subject to be studied this year. — Parresia: difficulty in defining the notion; bibliographical reference points. — An enduring, plural, and ambiguous notion. — Plato faced with the tyrant of Syracuse: an exemplary scene of parresia. — The echo of Oedipus. Parresia versus demonstration, teaching, and discussion. — The element of risk.

Four: 12 January 1983: Second Hour
Irreducibility of the parrhesiastic to the performative utterance: opening up of an unspecified risk/public expression of a personal conviction/bringing a free courage into play. — Pragmatics and dramatics of discourse. — Classical use of the notion of parresia: democracy ( Polybius ) and citizenship ( Euripides ).

Five: 19 January 1983: First Hour
Ion in the mythology and history of Athens. — Political context of Euripides’ tragedy: the Nicias peace. — History of Ion’s birth. — Alethurgic schema of the tragedy. — The implication of the three truth-tellings: oracle, confession ( l’aveu ), and political discourse. — Structural comparison of Ion and Oedipus the King. — The adventures of truth-telling in Ion: the double half-life.

Six: 19 January 1983: Second Hour
Ion: A nobody, son of nobody. —Three categories of citizen. — Consequences of political intrusion by Ion: private hatreds and public tyranny. — In search of a mother. — Parresia irreducible to the actual exercise of power and to the citizen’s status. — The agnostic game of truth-telling: free and risky. — Historical context: the Cleon/Nicias debate. — Creusa’s anger.

Seven: 26 January 1983: First Hour
Continuation and end of the comparison between Ion and Oedipus: the truth does not arise from an investigation but from the clash of passions. — The rule of illusions and passions. — The cry of confession and accusation. — G. Dumézil’s analyses of Apollo. — Dumézil’s categories applied to Ion. — Tragic modulation of the theme of the voice. — Tragic modulation of the theme of gold.

Eight: 26 January 1983: Second Hour
Tragic modulation of the theme of fertility. — Parresia as imprecation: public denunciation by the weak of the injustice of the powerful. — Creusa’s second confession ( aveu ): the voice of confession ( confession ). Final episodes: from murder plan to Athena’s appearance.

Nine: 2 February 1983: First Hour
Reminder of the Polybius text. — Return to Ion: divine and human veridictions. — The three forms of parresia: statutory-political; judicial; moral. — Political parresia: its connections with democracy; its basis in an agnostic structure. — Return to the Polybius text isegoria/parresia relationship. Politeia and dunasteia: thinking of politics as experience. — Parresia in Euripides: The Phoenician Women; Hippolytus; The Baccahe; Orestes. — The Trial of Orestes.

Ten: 2 February 1983: Second Hour
The rectangle of parresia: formal condition, de facto condition, truth condition, and moral condition. — Example of the correct functioning of democratic parresia in Thucydides: three discourse of Pericles. — Bad parresia in Isocrates.

Eleven: 9 February 1983: First Hour
Parresia: everyday usage; political usage. — Reminder of three exemplary scenes: Thucydides; Isocrates; Plutarch. — Lines of evolution of parresia. — The four great problems of ancient political philosophy: the ideal city; the respective merits of democracy and autocracy; addressing the Prince’s soul; the philosophy/rhetoric relationship. — Study of three texts by Plato.

Twelve: 9 February 1983: Second Hour
Plato’s Letters: the context. — Study of Letter V: the phone of constitutions; reasons for non-involvement. — Study of Letter VII. — Dion’s history. — Plato’s political autobiography. — The journey to Sicily. — Why Plato accepts: kairos; philia; ergon.

Thirteen: 16 February 1983: First Hour
Philosophical ergon. Comparison with the Alcibiades. — The reality of philosophy: the courageous address to power. — First condition of reality: listening, the first circle. — The philosophical oeuvre: a choice; a way; an application. — The reality of philosophy as work of self on self ( second circle ).

Fourteen: 16 February 1983: Second Hour
The failure of Dionysius. — The platonic rejection of writing. — Mathemata versus sunousia. — Philosophy as practice of the soul. — The philosophical digression of Letter VII: the five elements of knowledge. — The third circle: the circle of knowledge. — The philosopher and the legislator. — Final remarks on contemporary interpretations of Plato.

Fifteen: 23 February 1983: First Hour
The enigmatic blandness of Plato’s political advice. — The advice of Dionysius. — The diagnosis, practice of persuasion, proposal of a regime. — Advice to Dion’s friends. — Study of Letter VIII. — Parresia underpins political advice.

Sixteen: 23 February 1983: Second Hour
Philosophy and politics: necessary relationship but impossible coincidence. — Cynical and Platonic game with regard to politics. — The new historical conjuncture: thinking a new political unit beyond the city-state. — From the public square to the Prince’s soul. — The Platonic theme of the philosopher-king.

Seventeen: 2 March 1983: First Hour
Reminders about political parresia. — Points in the evolution of political parresia. — The major questions of ancient philosophy. — Study of a text by Lucian. — Ontology of discourse of veridiction. — Socratic speech in Apology. — The paradox of the political non-involvement of Socrates.

Eighteen: 2 March 1983: Second Hour
End of study of Socrates’ Apology: parresia/rhetoric opposition. — Study of the Phaedrus: general plan of the dialogue. — The conditions of good logos. — Truth as permanent function of discourse. — Dialectic and psychagogy. — Philosophical parresia.

Nineteen: 9 March 1983: First Hour
The historical turnaround of parresia: from the political game to the philosophical game. — Philosophy as practice of parresia: the example of Aristippus. — The philosophical life as manifestation of the truth. — The permanent address to power. — The interpellation of each. — Portrait of the Cynic in Epictetus. — Pericles and Socrates. — Modern philosophy and courage of the truth.

Twenty: 9 March 1983: Second Hour
Study of the Gorgias. — The obligation of confession ( aveu ) in Plato: the context of liquidation of rhetoric. — The three qualities of Callicles: episteme; parresia; eunoia. — Agnostic game against egalitarian system. — Socratic speech: basanos and homologia.

Course Context

Index of Names

Index of Concepts and Notions

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Michel Foucault acknowledged as the preeminent philosopher of France in the 1970s and 1980s, continues to have enormous impact throughout the world in many disciplines. He died in 1984.

Arnold I. Davidson (Editor) is the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, and Professor of the History of Political Philosophy at the University of Pisa. He is co-editor of the volume Michel Foucault: Philosophie. He lives in Chicago.

Graham Burchell (Translator) is the translator, and has written essays on Michel Foucault. He is an Editor of The

Read the full excerpt


  • Michel Foucault; Translated by Graham Burchell; Edited by Frédéric Gros; General Editors: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana; English Series Editor: Arnold I. Davidson

  • Michel Foucault, acknowledged as the preeminent philosopher of France in the 1970s and 1980s, continues to have enormous impact throughout the world in many disciplines. His works include  Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, The History of Sexuality, and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

    Series editor Arnold I. Davidson teaches philosophy, divinity, and comparative literature at the University of Chicago and is executive editor of the journal Critical Inquiry. The author of numerous studies on Foucault, he has been a visiting professor at the Collège de France.

    Translator Graham Burchell lives in Italy. He has written essays on Michel Foucault and was an editor of The Foucault Effect: Essays on Governmentality.